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Surprising new form of concussion recovery: Exercise

The long-standing advice for concussion recovery has been rest. However, a recent study turned that advice on its head and showed returning to aerobic exercise in as little as 24 hours after a concussion can actually speed recovery. Aerobic exercise is very beneficial for the brain because it improves blood flow and oxygenation to the brain as well as triggers the release of brain-friendly hormones and chemicals.

A new Canadian study shows that starting aerobic exercise soon after a concussion is not only safe, it may be protective and beneficial.

How soon is soon? The study of more than 250 young athletes between the ages of 15 and 20 showed that exercising as soon as 24 hours after the concussion can produce more favorable results among some people than waiting longer.

The study showed the longer the athletes waited to exercise again after their concussion, the slower was their recovery and return to their sport, jobs, or school.

In fact, waiting seven days to begin aerobic exercise almost doubled the recovery time versus waiting three days.

How to safely exercise after a concussion

Tthe researchers added that the post-concussion period is not the time to push yourself too hard. It may be necessary to reduce your overall activity level in general so as not to exacerbate your symptoms during the recovery phase.

After a concussion it’s safest to get your heart rate up without moving your head too much. The appropriate exercise and level of exertion depends on the person, but examples of safe post-concussion exercises include walking and using a stationary bicycle or elliptical machine.

The researchers suggest avoiding activities such as jogging and swimming.

Start at an intensity low enough so you can maintain a conversation with someone.

Pay attention to your symptoms — it’s important you do not make yourself feel or function worse.

If you have a history of concussions, many symptoms, or you lost consciousness, you can expect your recovery to take longer. While aerobic exercise can benefit your recovery, just be careful not to overdo it.

Functional neurology as a post-concussion aid

How do you know if you’re exercising too little or too much?

Functional neurology is an excellent tool to monitor and aid your progress.

Ideally, you will have had already had a functional neurology exam prior to your concussion to establish a baseline from which to work.

A preventive functional neurology exam and protocol is an excellent idea for athletes who are at a higher risk of sustaining a concussion and who want to optimize their performance.

A baseline neurological exam prior to a concussion can help identify areas of the brain that sustained the most damage and need the most targeted rehabilitation therapy. It can also identify how badly the concussion affected your brain, and then track your recovery.

However, if your first exam comes after your concussion, that’s ok too. We can perform follow-up exams during your recovery to evaluate your progress and tailor your exercise plan and other recovery protocols accordingly.

Functional neurology shines in many areas of restoring brain health, including in rehabilitation from concussions and brain injuries. Ask my office for more information.

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Meet the Author

Kristien Boyle DOM, AP (FL), LAc (SC)
Kristien Boyle DOM, AP (FL), LAc (SC)

Dr. Boyle D.O.M. (FL) is the founder of the Holistic Wellness Center of the Carolinas where he is the Director of Functional Medicine. He holds a Diplomate in Oriental Medicine and is acupuncture physician and primary care physician in the state of Florida. His post-graduate focus has been in the fields of functional neurology, functional immunology, and functional endocrinology.

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